Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Greens move on equal pay

Almost forty years ago, Parliament passed the Equal Pay Act 1972, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of gender in wage rates. Since then, the gender pay gap has decreased, but not disappeared; it currently remains stubbornly at around 12%. Successive governments have ignored this, believing that the problem would work itself out eventually, but after 40 years, I think its clear that stronger action is needed. And the Greens have stepped up, with a new Equal Pay Amendment Bill.

Like the recent Equality Act in the UK, the bill is aimed at providing more information about discrimination, so that it can be identified and removed. Unlike the UK law, it does not require employers to publish this information themselves; instead they must forward it annually to the Department of Labour for publication in statistical form, and make it available to any employee or their representative on request. The bill includes provision for independent review if the information is deemed "confidential". The net result will be that employees who suspect pervasive discrimination will be able to legally obtain the information required to bring a case, while the government will be able to better identify which types of employers (and which geographic areas) still discriminate so as to craft better policy. These are good measures, though I also think self-publication will help as well, in that it forces employers to directly confront their own statistics, and maybe think a little about whether there is a problem and how to correct it.

As with Labour's anti-privatisation bill, there is no hope of this bill being drawn before the election. But that's not the point; instead, this is about raising the issue, highlighting the problem, and forcing the government (and opposition) to front up and respond. And if it shifts the conversation, and forces one or other of the two major parties to promise this sort of action, then it will have been a success.